We’re investing £20m in cutting-edge cryo microscopy

We’ve awarded £20 million for cryo-electron microscopy equipment to support world-leading structural biologists across the UK.

Cryo electron microscopy of a bacterial pore-forming toxin.

Credit: Helen Saibil, Wellcome Images

A bacterial pore-forming toxin captured by cryo-electron microscopy. The dark blue ring is the protein which attacks host membranes.

Cryo-EM is transforming areas of science essential for improving health, from seeing how drugs get into cells or visualising the atomic structure of a virus to aid vaccine development. This funding will allow scientists to address important biomedical questions that were simply unanswerable a few years ago.

The funded research groups are:

Two awards were also made to the electron BioImaging Centre at Diamond Light Source, Oxfordshire.

Cryo-EM is a form of microscopy used by structural biologists to study samples in extremely cold (cryogenic) conditions. By flash-freezing a sample in liquid ethane, biological molecules can be seen in their native states – or how they exist within a cell.

Many other techniques for structure determination require samples to be turned into crystals, something that is difficult or often impossible to do.

"Cryo-EM is at the forefront of structural biology research, having undergone something of a resolution revolution in recent years. We’re able to solve more and more structures at the atomic level, which has a real impact on all areas of the life sciences," says Dr Tom Collins, from our Genetics and Molecular Sciences team.

"By funding a variety of high-end and intermediate equipment we are seeking to strengthen the UK’s capability to undertake world-leading science."